Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships – It’s Not Up to Her to Get Over It
By March 18, 2016 0 803•
I had an affair a long time ago. It was brief and when my wife found out, I ended it. I have been completely committed to her ever since. We have a great life together, raising two great boys and spending quality time together. The problem is that she is still mad about the affair. I have apologized 1,000 times, and it seems like things are good, but then it comes back up. She says she never can trust me, which is not true. What can I do to help her get over this? She knows we have a great life and doesn’t want a divorce, but I can’t keep being beaten up for something that she can’t get over.
– Over It*
I want to start by saying that I know this has been hard for you, that I know you have done your best to apologize for the affair and that it makes sense you are feeling so frustrated. Hear that? Okay, now for the tough love: All of that isn’t good enough for Wife. And it’s not up to her to get over it; it’s up to you to fix it.
Let me explain why your apologies haven’t done the trick. I wasn’t in the room, but I have a suspicion that you struggled with meeting Wife in her pain. What I mean is that though you apologized, you may not have empathized. In fact, if you are like most people when caught, you may have defended yourself a little (it’s okay, that’s a biological response to feeling threatened). While making the stretch into apologizing for your actions may have been an enormous demonstration of your commitment, it didn’t feel that way to Wife because she may not have felt heard and comforted by you in the aftermath. It makes sense that once you said you were sorry you worked to move on, but for Wife the pain remained. She needed more comforting. I know that may sound “needy” in the pejorative sense, but that’s exactly what it is: a need to be comforted by you.
Renowned couples therapist Dr. Sue Johnson describes this sort of breach as a bomb going off in a relationship. The repercussions require long-term care and nurturing. I know you can do that; you are raising two “great boys” and I am sure you have comforted and nurtured them through pain. Try some of that care and gentleness on Wife and see what happens. I know this might seem impossible at this stage, so I would also recommend meeting with a couples therapist. (Someone trained in Sue Johnson’s Emotionally-Focused Therapy might be the best choice. Contact me and I will put you in touch.) Setting up the appointment yourself will immediately demonstrate your commitment to healing and put you on a faster path to the resolution you seek.
*Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor in Georgetown. Visit her on the web at stacymurphyLPC.com. This column is meant for entertainment only and should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Send your confidential question to stacymurphyLPC@gmail.com.*